What Is Cafecito?

TikTok is going crazy for this drink—here's how to make it yourself.

Woman serving a cuban coffee
Photo: Juanmonino/Getty Images

Ever since whipped dalgona coffee took off as one of the first food trends to come out of TikTok, users have loved getting creative with their at-home coffee creations. But now, it's café Cubano, or cafecito, that's taking the spotlight.

Cafecito is all about the preparation, and while it takes some serious skill and practice to master, it's still very accessible at home (especially if you own this universally-loved coffee maker). The process is simple, structured, and almost beautifully methodical—and it's also a signature part of Cuban culture.

According to Carlos Frías, former Food Editor of the Miami Herald, the cafecito is, "not just an Italian espresso that we've renamed." He adds, "It's whipped together with sugar. That's what makes the Cuban coffee."

Simply put, a cafecito is a small shot of coffee with a sweet, luscious topping called "la crema." The thick and frothy crema doesn't actually contain any cream—it's made from whipping sugar and a small amount of coffee until aerated.

How does this differ from dalgona coffee? That sweet foam is made with instant coffee, sugar, and hot water instead, but the idea of "hand-beaten" coffee is similar. But cafecito is made using true espresso-style coffee instead of the instant kind.

The small single serving should not be underestimated—with a strong shot of espresso-style coffee and a good amount of sugar, it's sure to wake you up in the morning.

The cafecito is simple—with no fancy tools or ingredients required—but it's the refined technique that makes it delicious. Right now, you can find people making this drink all over your "For You" page, but true Cuban coffee drinkers know that the frothy, flavorful drink goes far beyond a TikTok trend.

What Is Cafecito?

"There's this old joke that Cuban coffee is Colombian coffee, made in an Italian espresso maker, by a Honduran woman, at a Cuban restaurant," says Frías.

The sweet and creamy cafecito is characterized by a dark, espresso-like brew of coffee and a thick, sugary foam on top.

The coffee has to be dark roast for two reasons. Not only because of the strong and robust flavor it adds to the drink, but also because coffee beans that have been roasted longer will release more oil, and that extra bit of oil will play a big role when it comes to making la crema.

A well-made crema is essential in preparing a classic cafecito. Incorporated with a small amount of moisture, the whipped sugar becomes light and cloud-like, turning into a sweet foam called "espuma" or "azuquita," which is Spanish for "little sugar."

Because it's mixed with the oiliest part of the brewed coffee, la crema rises and sits on top of the coffee, creating a gorgeous appearance and a rich, luxurious flavor.

"So, what you'll have is this toasty, almond butter-colored cream over this rich black coffee. It has an incredible flavor," Frías says. If you're a coffee lover like me, you're already sold.

According to Frías, you only really drink a "thimble-full" at a time—less than an ounce. He also instructs it's not meant to be drunk by yourself, but rather split among several small, ceramic cups and shared with friends. Sipped slowly and in small amounts, it's the perfect pick-me-up for any time of day.

Traditionally, the only tools you need are a MokaPot ("folks here in Miami will just call it 'cafetera,'" Frías explains) and a small metal container for whipping la crema. "In almost every Cuban household you'll find what looks like an aluminum coffee creamer holder—it looks like something you might see at an iHop with cream in it," he adds.

Frías likes a 4 to 1 ratio of sugar to coffee—yep, it's a seriously sweet drink—so the bitter notes of the dark roast will balance out the sweetness. Frías warns, "if you put in too much sugar, if you get that ratio wrong, it can be cloying."

But at the same time, Cuban coffee is so strong on its own that Frías thinks it's terrible to give somebody coffee that hasn't been sweetened. "You really have to brace for that," he explains.

How to Make Cafecito at Home

The most common tool for making cafecito at home is a 3-cup MokaPot. Start by filing up the base with hot water until it reaches just under the bolt.

Take your dark roast coffee (ground to a medium-fine texture) and spoon it into the small coffee canister. Level it off with your finger, but try not to pack it too much.

Insert the coffee holder into the pot, screw on the top, and place it on the stove over medium-high heat. Next, take a small metal canister and fill it with about 4 teaspoons of sugar.

The most important part is collecting those first few drops of coffee made in the MokaPot, so leave the lid off to alert you when it starts sputtering. When the first teaspoon of coffee comes out of the MokaPot, pour it into the sugar, then place it back on the stovetop to finish brewing.

Now it's time to make la crema. With a spoon, whip the sugar and first-brewed coffee together quickly and energetically, crushing the sugar up against the sides to break down the crystals. This process takes about 2 minutes of work, so be patient with it.

"You'll know that its right when you have the color and consistency of almond butter or peanut butter," he says.

Once la crema reaches a light caramel color and a thick but gooey consistency, it's time to pour in the rest of the brewed coffee. Frías drizzles it over the back of a spoon so that the pour doesn't break the nice, foamy top. Then, give the drink a final stir, and serve.

The final step, he adds, is handing out tiny little espresso cups to your friends. As you finish each pour, shake your hand back and forth a little bit to allow the foam to float to the top of each cup, "so everybody gets a nice pour of black coffee with a little bit of thick, sweet crema on top," he instructs.

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